Tunny has asked that his Traprain Story is told to ensure none of his herd suffer from water lack in the next dry season. Tunny is the oldest - and wisest - of the Traprain ponies and is now residing in Northumberland with MMT's Chairman Juliet Rogers who will, along with the Vet there, look after him well. Eventually he will be spending Quality Time on a flat ground only site. However, Tunny was a major part of the Traprain herd and until severe ongoing problems accessing water occurred throughout the dry season this year (2020)was a very happy, able pony who truly enjoyed life on Traprain. Here's his story.
We take a journey back to October 2019 when MMT came to Traprain briefly to discuss the summit pond and fence on the south side of the hill (now erected). MMT and the Council agreed to totally fence the summit pond off. I wasn't too concerned at that point because I knew the ponies would still be able to access the 60gals of water in the Pen buckets which they used most days - and which encouraged them to stay at ground level longer. These Pen buckets had been there about 6 years and had given assurance that the ponies always stayed well hydrated.
Eventually the Council decided in 2020 - around the start of COVID - to use an electric fence around the summit pond - even though by this time it was dry with no water! After a short while this was stolen. The important thing to remember here is that throughout the long period from October 2019 through to March 2020 there was no occasion when any pony suffered from lack of water - through lack of ACCESS to the water - even though the summit pond was fenced off from them. The ponies were frequent visitors to the 60gals of water at the Pen buckets at ground level on the north side of the hill throughout dry seasons and in turn this encouraged the ponies to stay at ground level longer and wander to the south trough after refreshing themselves at the Pen buckets. The herd were able to socialise at the Pen buckets - it was a lovely sight to witness. (Pen buckets had been there about 6 years).Because the Pen buckets were on the north side of the hill this ensured good hydration when they later went to the south trough. They have always had a strong reluctance to stay on the south of the hill very long - they feel trapped there - its a busy area with dog walkers and rock climbers - contrary to what the Council say! They feel trapped because there is only one way in and one way out on that side of the hill. Observe the ponies in their daily routine - you will find they always rest in an area where they have more than one escape route.....hence their feeling trapped on the south side of the hill.
Sadly one day in April 2020 I got an e.mail from the Ranger stating not to refill the buckets - because she had emptied the 60gals of water and removed the buckets. No explanation - it was done very suddenly. When I arrived there to see what was going on I was actually very shocked. It looked as if the Pen had been vandalised.
Above left : Ponies enjoying their Pen buckets. This water ensured they stayed well hydrated when the summit pond was dry (rainfed summit pond). They socialised well here.
Above right : this is how I found the Pen buckets after the Ranger had emptied them in April 2020. I was really shocked - but imagine how the ponies must have felt when they came down from their dry summit pond to find the buckets like this..... from this day problems started occurring with water.
The ponies were still able to find water - but a long way away on the south side of the hill. I noticed the ponies would leave themselves without access to water for long hours, favouring the high slopes until early evening and then coming down to the south trough on average about 6.00pm. Rock climbers climbing on the south side (opposite the trough) also noticed how regular in their time they were. They would drink at the trough and spend about 1.5 hours in that area while the trough refilled and I noticed a few ponies would go to the trough as if they were checking it had refilled! Then the herd would gradually make their way back to the west side of the hill. The actions of the Ranger/Council in discarding those Pen buckets did not lead to longer grazing periods on the south side - in fact it diminished their grazing time there!
When the Pen buckets were in use the ponies would often come down mid afternoon to the Pen buckets, socialise and hydrate well there and STILL go to the south trough evenings. There was 60gals of water at the Pen buckets - but it was manually filled. This method encouraged the ponies to go to the south trough where the Council wanted them to graze more - while maintaining good hydration from the Pen buckets. The ponies were not keen on going to the south trough until early evening because that side of the hill tends to be quite busy in the day - and the south trough happens to be just feet away from the stile!
I would try to ensure I was at the south trough at the time the ponies came down in the evening in order to check things were okay. This is when I started to see "herd bullying" occur. It was very sad to witness and I felt at a loss to know how to prevent it. Some ponies would get pushed or even kicked by other ponies who felt the need to "guard" their water supply. This was behaviour I had never noticed in all the years I had been with the ponies. It was very evident only due to them feeling a lack of water access. Here's an extract from professional Equine Behaviourist Justine Harrison who has given me permission to quote her extract :-
"Yes, it's that toilet roll problem. At the beginning of lockdown I witnessed 2 middle-aged men fighting over the last pack of toilet roll in my local supermarket - they eventually had to be separated by security guards. I've never seen anything like this previously in people but of course we regularly see this behaviour in horses.
If important resources become scarce, individuals will fight over them - especially if they believe it's a matter of life or death. Now those 2 men weren't going to die if they didn't get the toilet roll, but horses may defend their friends or water troughs. This guarding behaviour is a sure sign their current needs aren't met". (courtesy of Justine Harrison : www.equinebehaviourist.co.uk).
Above: 6 ponies easily accessing water on a site in Dover.
Opposite: 3 ponies trying to access the small south trough at Traprain. This is why herd bullying started to occur. There were 13 ponies all eager for water - yet barely 3 ponies could access it at one time. Those ponies would often then guard it....
Opposite left: the very small manual east trough.
Opposite right: Pony Tunny enjoying a salt lick at the south trough. I'd put the licks out as the ponies arrived trying to divert attention for the timid ponies to access the trough. This idea helped - but I implemented it late into the bullying situation.
In the end I decided to try to arrive earlier at the south trough and fill small buckets of water (the photo above of the herd at the trough shows a pony with his head lowered to a black bucket) and I hung salt licks out for the ponies - as a diversion to the more dominant ponies. Unfortunately I never started doing this early enough. I had begun to notice Pony Tunny and Firtree would come down with the herd from the summit slopes but then hang back on the west side while the rest of the herd went to the south trough. Once the herd started coming back to the west side after drinking at the south trough Tunny and Firtree would walk round to the south trough by themselves. It became evident they were trying to avoid herd bullying. (Several ponies were bullied but only Tunny, Firtree and sometimes Juglans held back). Once I started leaving the buckets and salt licks out I noticed Tunny and Firtree would begin to venture round with the herd - but still stayed well back most of the time. Other less dominant ponies also stayed back until more dominant ponies had stopped guarding the water access. Remember : the summit pond was dry throughout this period...... The south and even smaller east troughs were the only water source now the Pen buckets were destroyed.
Then one evening I found Firtree and Tunny near a beautiful rock basin on the south west summit looking quite distressed. They were both standing at the empty rock basin. In the rain season this rock basin holds 3gals of water - but of course with no rain it was entirely empty. The other ponies had already moved further down the hill onwards to the south trough. I used to keep about 6gals (2 small buckets) of water at ground level evenings and all I could do was get that water. As soon as the ponies had the water they were absolutely fine and went down to ground level and later on to the south trough.
After this situation I noticed Tunny and Firtree would often stay separate from the herd, as if they no longer wanted to be part of the herd. However, at other times they would join the herd - but they were frequently quite separate. In fact the whole herd started separating - but always coming together when moving to a new area. (Since Tunny has gone Firtree has gradually started mixing with the herd again).
I noticed Tunny seemed to now have a slight limp as well which was far better when he was on the high summit area. This symptom did seem to improve but would show itself again when the herd was moving to ground level to drink at the south trough. (When the buckets had been at the Pen the ponies would often stay at ground level throughout the day but now the buckets were removed they started favouring the high slopes in the day where they felt safer - but this resulted in long periods without water). The Council just did not seem to understand "Pony Language" and seemed to think that as long as water was at the south trough the ponies would stay on that side. Wrong thinking.... the ponies do not feel secure on the south side - hence they do not stay on that side longer than necessary. They feel safe on the north and west sides which is why they would stay at ground level and access the Pen buckets with ease. It makes no sense whatsoever to have thrown the Pen buckets away since the Council wanted to encourage the ponies at ground level more - and the buckets did that! They would usually access ground level from the west side of the hill as well - not the archaeologically sensitive north path. They would frequently graze the north slopes and even come within the vicinity of the north path - but not use it much. It was us humans using the path most of all....!
Opposite : Tunny and Firtree sharing water together
I became so concerned about the ongoing situation and realised that no one was taking action that in the end I reported my concerns strongly to the Head of the Conservation Department. He told me he would send a Vet to check on the situation and the Vet report stated that all ponies were fine and the water situation was fine as well..... I was never given the name of the Vet..... Things were NOT fine! But no one wanted to listen.....
Tunny did seem to overcome his limp as time went on but I had been concerned he had been kicked (in herd bullying at the trough). However, I saw Tunny with his herd on the high north slopes about 5.00pm on Thursday 29th November 2020 - not knowing the ponies' Charity MMT and Council had already planned on removing Tunny from the site the following day (Friday 30th November 2020). After having worked with the ponies for 9 years I do feel "competent" to recognise if a pony is limping or not.....! Tunny most certainly was NOT limping on 29th November 2020. He had seemed to be improving well and using the slopes far easier. I was told later when he arrived in Hexham he had a hock injury. I have seen very bad handling at another site by "management" and can only wonder if this is what caused a hock injury on the day Tunny left the hill. We will never know. The question will remain.
Most people who know me also know I teach (music) on a Friday afternoon - the one day it is difficult for me to keep track of things at Traprain - but friends do keep me informed who walk there and the Council have their own Pony Rota of volunteers. I received an e.mail from the Ranger telling me they had removed Tunny from the hill on 30th November 2020. I was shocked by the way it had been handled...... I also found a lot of manure both in and around the Pony Pen and lots of hoof marks. Never before had I found manure around or in the Pony Pen - the ponies themselves keep their social areas clean..... It was a sure sign to me that there had been a lot of frantic activity there. I later got a report from MMT telling me Tunny had at some point suffered a pelvic injury and had a hock injury. It is very possible he had a pelvic injury caused from the herd bullying. Certainly at one point he had been limping - slightly - but this had greatly improved. However, he showed no sign of a hock injury the evening before he was taken off the hill. If the Council had asked myself or someone else independently to witness Tunny leaving the hill it would have been a far wiser thing to do.
If Tunny had suffered an injury that had only partially healed any frantic handling removing him from Traprain would have aggravated his situation - just as it would in a human! Tunny and I knew each other well and he would have been happy to have been led off the hill by myself - but I was never asked...... the people concerned chose instead to "round the ponies up" - or at least that is how it certainly appeared by the sight I found at the Pen. I usually clear manure from pony resting areas - but I have purposely left the manure in and just outside the Pen as a reminder to the people who handled the ponies that day of how they handled that situation.
I believe Tunny wanted to leave Traprain - he had been a very important and respected member of the herd until the Pen buckets were destroyed. From that day Tunny's life became quite miserable at times for him. He needed to leave the hill and I also believe he needed veterinary attention.
My questions are : (a) why did it take so long for any people in "management" to act on his behalf. It took them months - not days or weeks.....
(b) Why were those buckets destroyed - because if they had not been Tunny would still be on Traprain and would have suffered no injury. His troubles started only after they were destroyed.
Until this very sad and unnecessary situation occurred for Tunny Traprain's ponies had a 100% good health record. Since new "management" took over in 2019 things to date have been very unstable at Traprain, affecting not only the ponies but even things like gorse cutting - though improvements have happened as well e.g. the water diversion has finally happened on the north path.... a definite positive improvement.
But the water situation MUST be sorted at Traprain before the next dry season. What has been done this year has caused a change in the character of the herd, created stress, and "management" really need to recognise they are not experienced in handling pony matters. An example recently is when they put the ponies into the new south "paddock" and next day I found Pony Viper-Mistral limping..... Thankfully he is fully recovered now. However, after about 3 days of the herd being behind the new fencing someone opened the Pony gate allowing the ponies access to the whole hill again. Unfortunately "management" decided to take it upon themselves to try to tempt the ponies down the hill again with a rather large bucket of food. This showed me clearly they have absolutely no understanding at all of "pony intelligence". Management failed and it has - at present - encouraged the ponies to stay on the high slopes where they feel safe. Managements own actions have caused this...
Although I am sure none of us want to see the ponies kept behind the new fencing on the south side of the hill at times compromise needs to be met and providing it is for a very limited period e.g. 2 or 3 months only occasionally. I believe in a short time the ponies would settle on that side. I do realise "management" need to meet requirements for many "bodies" involved at Traprain and if people involved with management of the hill believe this will help the general wellbeing of all departments involved the ponies will adapt to their new situation. But it needs to be done with compassion, understanding, and certainly a far better sized trough! The south side of the hill is not a quiet area - although "management" have told people it is in e.mails to enquiries from people. They have a "foot counter" at the main Car Park counting people accessing the hill from the north side. But not all those people go up to the summit. Many of us enjoy walking right round the hill. Some people access ground level from the east quarry area. Others from the south (trough) stile! There is no "quiet" area for the ponies on the south side. The quietest area on the south side is the east (quarry) area - but there is also a main public access gate there. The ponies will adapt - but lets also be honest and clear. Locking the ponies into the south side in no way is for their own health. The ponies know the hill well and know the best places according to weather conditions - and where to go for a "quiet time" - far better than "management" know....! The south side is not flat as "management" have stated at times. Its the reverse, full of deep holes and a muddy path (not caused by the ponies....!).
It seems that the new "management" wish to create their own ideas - but lets ensure those ideas work for the good of all - humans and ponies alike. Our community are keen to support "management" while at the same time being 100% supportive of the beautiful ponies that grace the hill.
Reinstall those buckets at the Pen - or a very large trough..... particularly if you want good wide grazing and well hydrated ponies.
Install a far larger trough at the south stile or an extra trough - or even large tyre buckets that can be filled directly from the trough!
Negative events caused through the water situation led to Tunny losing his home at Traprain. Lets have no more negative events occurring - and although Tunny is no longer gracing the slopes of Traprain his herd remember him. They have lost a member of their herd. Tunny is in good hands with Juliet in Hexham now - but please "management" be compassionate and kind to Tunny's herd - they are sentient beings that experience grief, sadness, joy, fear just like us humans.....
Traprain's slopes are filled with beautiful flowers especially from April to September each year now - all thanks to Tunny's herds grazing efforts. In turn the bees and other insects are able to reap the benefit of those flowers and us humans also gain the benefits that wonderful biodiversity brings. The least we can do in return is to acknowledge the ponies right to excellent Welfare.
Tunny's herd : Pony Bob, Pegasus-Whistler, Thistle, Spike, Jessie James, Unicorn, Dandelion, Elmer-Chico, Viper-Mistral, Rowan, Juglans, Firtree